Backcountry Power Guide

July 10, 2018
Filed Under: clinic

5 Steps To Take Control Of Your Off-Grid Energy

Editor’s Note: This power guide focuses on energy tips for outdoor adventure. Stay tuned for another installment in a few weeks that focuses on Emergency Readiness around home.

We’ve been saying it since 2012: Energy is Everywhere – you just need the right tools to harness it.

But before you get to the tools, follow these five key steps so you can match up with the right gear to keep you reliably powered and charging in the outdoors. Let’s dive in:

Step 1: Audit Your Gear & ID the Rechargeables

 Sort your electronics into two straightforward categories: Functional, and Fun. Sounds obvious, but this helps you immediately assess your minimum power requirement to stay safe on your trip. Things like lighting and communication devices fall into the Functional Category; your speaker probably falls under Fun. Some stuff might fall in between (ongoing debate about GPS watches over here), and that’s when you ask yourself if it dies when I’m out there, am I fundamentally impacted? If weight isn’t a huge issue on your trip, you can plan to “sunset” some gear where it’s fun while it lasts, but when it runs out, you don’t plan to charge it back up.

Next, take a look at what’s USB rechargeable vs. requires battery swaps. Ideally, the more USB rechargeable items you’ve got, the more flexibility you have out on the trail. Regardless, it’s important to take stock of how your gear takes power – there’s nothing worse than learning your beacon uses obscure watch batteries during a windstorm.

Step 2: Calculate Your Watts & Determine If You Plan To Store, Generate, Or Both

All USB rechargeable gear will generally tell you the size of its internal battery, often measured in milliamps, aka mAh. For reference, many smartphones are around 2600mAh.

Looking at mAh is helpful if you plan to bring along a powerbank that can store energy at the ready, pre-charged from home. These backup batteries will display their storage capacity in mAh so it’s a quick and easy comparison. Many devices nowadays often double as a powerbank (such as speakers or lanterns, like the BaseLanternXL), offering charge out to other devices – just remember it’ll decrease the runtime of that original item. The benefit of pre-charged storage is that you know you’ve got a supply of power guaranteed and all you need to do is plug in; the downside is once you’ve drained the powerbank, there’s no more coming. That is, unless you’ve got a generation solution by its side...

 

When it comes to creating power, there’s a little quick math to do: Amps = Watts/Volts

 

Next week we’re releasing a glossary all about Power Vocab (what’s an Amp? A Watt? A Volt?), but for the purposes of today’s article, the most important thing to pay attention to is how wattage impacts how long it takes to recharge a device.

Let’s take the SolarPanel 5+ for example. It’s a 5 Watt Panel, meaning it produces 5 watts of power in an hour of direct sun. BioLite electronics operate at 5 volts, so you’ve got that as a known quantity.

 

Amps = 5 Watts/5 Volts = 1 Amp = 1000mAh (milli means “thousand”)

 

That means in 1 hour of direct sun, you can fill up a device’s battery by 1000mAh. That’s approximately 40% of a phone charge or 75% of a PowerLight Mini.

And as a bonus, the SolarPanel5+ features an on-board 2200mAh powerbank, so if you want to charge up during the day, it can store that energy and share it out at night back at the campsite.

 

Step 3: Plan For Your Weather & Environment

Cold Weather
Warm Weather

 We know that math part was a slog, so we’ll make this quick: will you be in a sunny climate? A wet climate? A cold climate? Any of these can impact your power.

Knowing and preparing for your access to direct sun will determine if solar is the right option for power generation.

A wet climate means that, if you’re looking to generate power from a BioLite Stove, you need to plan for a dry fuel supply. And if you’re in a REALLY wet climate (aka rafting), make sure you’ve got a solid dry bag game going on to store your electronics.

Lastly, cold ambient temperatures have a nasty habit of draining batteries faster, so if you know you’ll be in cold conditions for your trip, pack your most important electronics close to your body to benefit from your residual heat and try warming up your powerbank in your hands before plugging in.

Step 4: Select Your Gear

Now that you’re equipped with info, it’s time to equip yourself with… well… equipment.

Depending on the duration of your trip and environmental conditions, you can make the call on the right mix of storage vs. generation – and depending on the activities you plan to undertake, you can go one step further and identify if you want passive generation or active generation: passive generation means you don’t do much to create the power, just set it and forget it (aka a Solar Panel). Active generation means you’re playing a bigger role in producing that energy (aka a crank generator or feeding a BioLite Stove, which can dovetail nicely with group meal planning).

Step 5: Make Your Electronics Energy Efficient

Now that you’ve got your power tools ready to roll, set them up for success by making the gear around you work as efficiently as possible. By conserving intelligently, your powerbanks and generators can top off your batteries faster and give you peace of mind that your energy supply is abundant. It’s really easy to waste precious juice out the backcountry – but the good news is, it’s also really easy to prevent it.

Reduce The Phone Monster

  • Put your phone in Airplane Mode. This will turn off location-based services which suck up battery.
  • Unless you’re actively communicating with another device, turn off bluetooth.
  • Close out of all apps.
  • Set your phone to Low Power Mode. This will turn off background refreshes, dim your display, and automatically regulate a few other functions that help preserve battery life.

Trust Your Eyes: Dim Those Lights

  • Your eyes are capable! Trust them in low-light conditions, and gradually dim your lanterns over a 30 minute period.
  • When available, use red night vision.
  • And if being seen is the most important thing, set your light to STROBE mode which can greatly increase runtimes.

Use Lock Mode

  • Pulling out your gear and realizing it’s been on in your pack for hours sucks.
  • Lots of gear offers a LOCKOUT mode where you press and hold a button and it prevents easy turn-on when in transit. Use it, you’ll be glad you did. 

And lastly, a little bit of housekeeping: charge everything up fully from home, make sure you’ve got the right charging cords with you, and if anyone “asks to borrow your charger,” make sure you’ve got those watts to spare and that they’re abiding by the same energy saving tactics as you are.

Looking to build your own off-grid energy ecosystem? Check out BioLite’s top storage & generating gear in the quickview comparison charts below.

 

SolarPanel Comparison

Charge Series Comparison

USB Lanterns Comparison

Stove Comparison

We'll be adding new tips to The Clinic all summer long. Have a question you'd like answered? Submit below and it may appear in an upcoming post.

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